Back-to-School Shopping In Store vs. Online

A metro Detroit mom struggles with whether to do back-to-school shopping in-store or online. Here's why she opted to take her kids to shop for their own supplies.

The soft drumbeat of back-to-school becomes a loud roar as the beautiful summer days of August sadly slip by. It all starts with backpacks. Walking into Meijer, Target or any other big box store, I can’t help but feel a sense of dread, deep inside, as I spot the first backpack proudly displayed for the back-to-school shopping season.

If you can’t tell, I am not the biggest fan of the school year, and I’m definitely not a fan.

One ‘tradition’ I’d rather skip

For the past 11 years, I have taken my three children with me as I begrudgingly checked off the pencils, crayons and plastic folders (green, red, blue and yellow) from lists that can run up to six pages long – all while angling for the best prices on school supplies, too.

It’s usually the folders that get me. The store I’m at will not have one of the color-coded folders the teacher requests so she can put my daughter’s math, or insert subject, work into. The fate of her ability to learn and excel in math depends on her having a blue folder, or so my daughter tells me. So, with three kids in tow, I’ve gone from store to store to find that darn BLUE folder.

An online solution to back-to-school shopping

So, when a good Facebook friend shared that Target has an online feature called School List Assist, I was more than excited. The feature pulls up your child’s school list, populates the items in your basket and has them shipped to your home or the store.

No longer did I have to explain to my third grader why she wasn’t allowed to get the $10 notebook with the kitty on the cover instead of the 50-cent solid red one, or why my fourth grader wouldn’t be getting the 64-count crayons but the 24-count the teacher requested.

I was so thrilled about my new find that, at the dinner table that night, I gushed to my husband about how I was going to do all the back-to-school shopping online. But then, then my kids heard.

And they were devastated. “What? NO!” they cried. “We love back-to-school shopping. We want to pick out our stuff!”

That’s when it hit me. I’ve always hated this stuff – except when I didn’t. And that was when I was a kid. I loved to choose the colors of my new notebooks and folders, and the fresh smell of vinyl radiating from the pencil pouches and backpacks meant a new year filled with possibilities. Not to mention, it gets kids in a back-to-school mindset – in a fun way.

So while I loved the convenience the online option would provide, I couldn’t take one of the greatest childhood experiences away from my kids. I caved and took them back-to-school shopping. And this time I tried to enjoy it through their eyes.

Hitting the stores with a kid’s perspective

My kids were so excited as we walked into Target that they were practically skipping.

They are old enough now to pick out their items with little help from me. They printed out their lists, took pens and checked off the supplies one by one. I noticed that they liked to touch, feel and even smell their supplies (of course I don’t know where they got that habit from).

My responsible kid stuck to basic colors and straight lines, but my wild child tried to fill the cart with as many pony and kitty themed items as possible. Let’s just say she had to put many things back. But I watched them compare quantity, price and quality. And when they put something in the cart that wasn’t a good choice, I taught them why.

I know there are a lot of busy moms out there, and I consider myself one of them. It seems like everything in society is telling us to do more, achieve more and at a faster pace. I think it’s important to remember what we’re giving up in that process. For my family, I wanted to preserve a happy childhood tradition.

It’s also a great way to raise a more cost-sconcious kid. I believe my kids are learning how to be savvy consumers when they pick out their own supplies.

Why I ultimately skipped online back-to-school shopping

My curiosity was piqued, so just for fun, I tried the school list assist feature and it was easy to use. I entered the school’s ZIP code, picked out the name of the school, clicked on the grade, and the supplies appeared in a list. It was very convenient, and I was sitting in the calm of my bedroom, sipping my coffee as I did it.

It was also a very sterile experience. There was no nitty-gritty haggling with my children and making secret deals (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, parents). However, I noticed that the online prices were a little higher than in-store.

I’ll keep taking my kids to an actual store to pick out their supplies because they love it, they learn how to shop smart, and the prices are better, but the next time I’m missing a blue folder, I’ll save myself a supply hunting spree and just have it shipped.

Do you do your kids’ back-to-school shopping online or in the store? Tell us what you did and why in comments.

This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.

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